Summary: Sermon on the nature of Christian life as denying oneself and taking up one’s cross.
In the kingdom of God the way to life goes through death.
Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
The kingdom of God is bizarro world. Whoever is concerned to secure their own life, will lose it. But the one that actually loses his own life, is the one that finds it.
A seeker once gave a report of his quest. First, I tried to find myself, but I never succeeded. Then I sought for God, but I did not find him. Finally, I pursued the good of my neighbor, and then I found all three. Many people have experienced that when they did everything they could to be happy, they could never find happiness. But when they tried to make others happy, they found it.
This has perhaps been most beautifully expressed in the prayer of St. Francis of Assissi:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light and where there is sadness, joy.
O Lord, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled but to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that I receive
It is in pardoning that I am pardoned;
And it is in dying that I am born to eternal life. Amen.
The way to life goes through death. That is the principle that applies in the kingdom of God. When Jesus talks about cross and death he is first and foremost talking about his own death. In another instance, Jesus says that unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds (John 12:24). Just as when the kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies to produce many seeds that are a hundred times more bountiful than the one kernel, so it is also in the kingdom of God. This applies first and foremost to Jesus himself. He did not have to die. He was the only human being who has ever lived and over whom death had no power. But he gave his life freely. For if Jesus had not died not very much would have come out of it. Then he could not have saved us. Then he would have been alone in heaven. Then there would have remained a single seed, as he says. But because Jesus died and rose again, he bore a lot of fruit. Then he could save a people for himself so that there is a great host, a great congregation that Jesus saved for heaven.
Jesus’ way to save human beings went through death. In the same way for us, our way to salvation goes through death. John 12:25: Those who love their life will lose it, while those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. This goes deeper than to die from our own self, that our egotism and selfishness must die. Something inside of us must die. It is our faith in ourselves that has to die. For the kingdom of God is bizarro world. Everywhere else we hear that the most important thing is to have faith in yourself. And that is true, as far as it goes. In Norway we have something that we call “Janteloven.” The first commandment is that you shall not believe that you are anything. There is actually no one who requires that we keep this, but is something like an invisible, unwritten law. It is just there. You shall not believe that you are anything. You shall not believe that anybody cares about you.
This is a terrible law. And it runs directly contrary to what Jesus says. He says that every individual human being is so precious that there is nothing in the whole world so valuable that it compares to the value of a human being. That is why it is so important that we take good care of the life that God has given to us.
And, strangely, Jesus says that we can only take really good care of this life if we lose it. If we deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him.
That means that we have to get to the point where we count ourselves as nothing. We must count ourselves as dead, spiritually speaking, as rubbish, as Paul says when he has listed all everything that he has of which to boast in himself. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ (Phil 3:7-8).